Warsaw 'biggest' rally draws 'a million' anti-govt protesters
WARSAW, Oct 1, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - Around a million people gathered on Sunday at a rally in Warsaw to protest against Poland's conservative government two weeks ahead of a key general election.
Called by opposition leader and former premier Donald Tusk, the "Million Hearts March" sought to mobilise the electorate ahead of the vote.
"This is absolutely the biggest demonstration in Warsaw's history," Warsaw city spokeswoman Monika Beuth told AFP, adding that "around a million" people attended.
Protesters gathered at the heart of Warsaw, many carrying Polish and European Union flags, and marched through the city, with the rally culminating with a speech by Tusk, the head of the centrist Civic Coalition bloc.
"We, here, are Poland," Tusk told the rally, "and we are here to win".
"Poland deserves better.. Poland deserves the best", he said, adding that "more than a million" people were taking part.
- 'Enough' -
Participants from across Poland began gathering in Warsaw in the early hours to rally against the government, run by the nationalist Law and Justice party.
Kazimierz Figzal said it took him seven hours to get to the capital from southwest Poland.
"We've had enough of what we witness now -- our freedom is being curbed. We want democracy, for our children and grandchildren," the 65-year-old told AFP.
"It's high time that we return back to normal, to the rule of law, to freedom of choice and of speech," said Monika Pieleszynska, a 43-year-old clerk.
Scores of prominent political figures joined the march, including leaders of some other opposition parties.
"We are ready to win, we are ready to form a democratic, European and modern government," a co-leader of the New Left party Robert Biedron told the crowd.
Ahead of the October 15 poll, the ruling party, which frequently clashes with the EU and faces accusations of undermining the rule of law, holds a comfortable lead in opinion polls, with around 35 percent, according to IBRiS polling.
The Civic Coalition opposition alliance has long trailed in second place, with 27 percent, according to IBRiS.
- 'Within reach' -
Tusk has said that according to his party's internal polls, the ruling party's lead has narrowed to just two percentage points.
"The opportunity is within reach, nothing has been decided yet," Tusk told his supporters earlier this week as he addressed crowds in Elblag, northern Poland, promising to hold the authorities accountable following the vote.
"Many of them will go to jail for blatant theft, for violating the law and the constitution," he said.
Law and Justice leaders are holding their own rival rally in the southern city of Katowice on Sunday.
"We don't need to wear paper hearts, we have hearts that are beating for Poland," former prime minister Beata Szydlo of the Law and Justice said in Katowice, referring to the symbol of the opposition rally.
Bartlomiej Piela, a Katowice resident who travelled to the opposition rally's in Warsaw on Sunday, disagreed.
"Breaking fundamental civil rights and women's freedom to choose how they wish to live, pitting Polish people against each other... I hope the march will mobilise people to change it", the 29-year-old said.